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Obama Announces Offshore Drilling Expansion

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he was expanding offshore drilling along the coastlines of the south and mid-Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. He added that he would also support the development of leased areas off the north slope of Alaska.

In remarks at Andrews Air Force Base, Obama said he had not made the decision lightly to open up vast new areas for oil exploration.

“But the bottom line is this: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy,” he said.

The president acknowledged that his decision was likely to provoke criticism from both environmentalists, who oppose more drilling, and industry groups, who are pressing for more energy exploration.

But Obama said that he was trying to strike a balance to ensure economic growth even as the nation weans itself off traditional fuel sources.

“Ultimately we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure-all and those who would claim it has no place,” Obama said.

Accompanied and introduced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Obama suggested that the negative impact of expanded drilling would be mitigated by new technologies.

“We’ll protect areas vital to tourism, the environment and our national security,” he said. “And we’ll be guided not by political ideology but by scientific evidence.”

The decision sets in motion an end to a moratorium on oil drilling along the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida. Oil companies and their GOP allies in Congress have long pressed for more domestic exploration. The issue came up during the 2008 presidential campaign when Republicans pressed for more domestic exploration chanting, “Drill, baby, drill,” during the GOP convention in Minneapolis.

With oil prices spiking that year, Obama endorsed more drilling during the fall campaign, saying at the time, “We’re going to have to explore new ways to get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling.”

The expanded drilling policy did not placate House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who said the administration should have gone further and opened up more coastal areas for drilling.

“Opening up areas off the Virginia coast to offshore production is a positive step, but keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking “where are the jobs?'” Boehner said in a statement.

However, the president has stressed that the drilling has to be part of a comprehensive energy package that includes development of alternative sources of energy and reduction of energy use.

In his remarks Wednesday, the president said this week that new standards to raise fuel economy in cars and trucks will be finalized.

He also said that the Army and Navy had been testing a mixture of biofuels on F-18 fighter jets and light armored vehicles.

“If tests go as planned it will be the first plane ever to fly faster than the speed of sound on a fuel mix that’s half biomass,” he said.

Obama also announced Wednesday that the government was going to double the number of hybrid vehicles in its fleet. “We’re going to lead by example,” Obama said. “Moving toward clean energy is about our security. It’s about our economy. And it’s about the future of our planet.”

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